“BaKaTa: Battle of the Street Poets” has bagged three Aliw Award nominations—Best Production for Children, Best Stage Direction in a Musical (Angelo Aurelio) and Best Child Performer (Ivan Batar). PHOTOS FROM TIU THEATER
‘BaKaTa,’ a rap musical made by urban-poor kids, returns this November
If you’re expecting kid actors in goody-goody roles, “BaKaTa” is not for you.
The rap musical, set for a restaging Nov. 20-22, 7 p.m. at TIU Theater, pools about 40 kids, mostly from slums and depressed areas, to create a play that illustrates the frustrations, resentments and thwarted dreams of urban poor children.
The language, therefore, necessarily includes profanity and blunt talk. “To remove the dirty language would be like taking out the teeth of a fierce dog,” says director Angelo Aurelio.
That ferocity instantly stands out in “BaKaTa,” a word that combines “bata,” “kalye” and “makata.” “BaKaTa: Battle of the Street Poets” had its first run last May 8-10; it was recently nominated for three Aliw awards, including Best Stage Direction in a Musical.
“[These kids] talk about crime, then school assignments, then confrontation,” says Aurelio. Dirty language is almost like second nature to many of them, reflecting their harsh surroundings.
“They do not hesitate to state observations like ‘malaki ang mata,’ ‘makapal ang bibig,’ words like ‘tanga,’ ‘gago,’ ‘bobo,’” notes Aurelio. They sound combative when they talk, too.
The director first observed all these when he held theater workshops for kids in the slums of Payatas and Smokey Mountain over three months beginning February.
“It started out as an outreach theater workshop sponsored by Creative Image Foundation,” he says. He was tapped to conduct weekend classes, using a framework he had used for kids’ community theater in the Cordillera region.
Kids were to sit around a “circle of conflict” where he would teach them improvisation and other acting methods, even theater ethics. Meetings were patterned after Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed; kids were asked to act out scenes they saw in their community. Another part of the training asked them to “enter” scenes improvised by their classmates.
Aurelio says his extensive work in the mountain region did not prepare him for what he was to experience in his immersion in urban community theater, held in dilapidated classrooms amid poverty-stricken communities and among urban-poor children.
While kids in the Cordilleras would go for comic scenes with novel characters, the urban-poor children couldn’t express themselves completely without swear words. These kids preferred channeling the people more familiar to them—the palengkera, the maton, the tsismosa, the pulubi; the conflicts they reenacted ranged from marketplace squabbles to outright fistfights.
It was clear that the city kids were growing up amid unrest. But Aurelio also noticed that in the kids’ games and interactions, they expressed themselves in an almost poetic way, via punchy, rap-like dialogue.
One girl said: “Umikot lang ako, naglalaway ka na.” Another strutted up to another girl, said her piece while occasionally spanking her groin, then went into a pose, or a split—anything to shock.
Boys engaged in flip-top battles. Said one: “Buti pa sa dagat may shell, sa langit may anghel. Nakita ko tatay mo, kalbong-kalbo nag-ge-gel.”
The language could become more forceful, the delivery approaching the speed of Gloc-9’s.
In such mock confrontations, participants attempted to outdo each other, the kids cheering loudly for each contestant.
Aurelio later used the games as warm-up devices to have the kids progress to another format—transplanting their brand of poetry from the classroom to public spaces such as roads, vacant spaces fronting tenements and covered courts.
The games and the scenes the youngsters came up with evolved into a script that would mirror the anger, but also the hope and dignity, in these kids’ lives. The raw materials they produced became 14 scenes in “BaKaTa,” eventually supplemented by Jim Poblete and MJ Magno’s music, and lyrics written by rapper Pio Balbuena. The set design, by installation artist Rommel Pidazo, used garbage as material.
While Balbuena was in charge of most rap sequences, a few were taken from the works of Jano Batar, the brother of Batang Maligaya, who was stabbed to death some years ago.
Other depressed communities in Rizal province also joined the play after the months-long program, bringing in dance troops and rap groups to the ensemble.
“There were also cameo roles for performers in the hip-hop community, all of whom wanted to pay homage to the very environment that birthed their genre,” Aurelio explained.
Themselves from a depressed area, sibling duo Batang Maligaya, “Talentadong Pinoy” finalists, secured prominent roles, with one half of the pair—Ivan Batar—now nominated by Aliw for Best Child Performer.
A number of scenes starred some of the kids’ parents and guardians, as well as artists from the Cordillera, portraying events patterned after real stories. A gay child, for instance, re-enacted his daily difficulties. Young women played battered wives to present stories of violence against women. Portrayed, too, were parents who remained nurturing amid poverty, alongside others who succumbed to their circumstances. And some kids played thieves manipulated by adults. The play was clear and direct: Poverty results from systemic social corruption.
Other realities also crept into the play.
“One of my alternates for a gay character wasn’t allowed to join because his parent was in conflict with one of the parents of another artist,” Aurelio says. “I also let go of one of my dancers and allowed him to leave for his home province because gang members were threatening to kill him.”
The production staff worked with a cast whose ages ranged from 7 to 27. “Every rehearsal had to be like playtime. I had to act like the kids, otherwise I lost their attention,” says Aurelio.
But despite all these challenges, the play managed to send a message strong enough to get an Aliw nomination for Best Production for Children—a development that gives extra boost to the play’s rerun this November.
“There are invisible hands manipulating the poor, people betraying their trust,” says Aurelio. The show explores how kids absorb, and cope with this environment of negativity, to try to make sense of their young lives and become empowered to dream for betterment and well-being.
The experience of seeing underprivileged kids go through the process and express themselves through theater is a profoundly spiritual one, says Aurelio: “I wish I could explain the invisible force that binds this project.”
“BaKaTa: Battle of the Street Poets” runs Nov. 20-22, 7 p.m. at TIU Theater, Mile Long Center, Makati City. TIU Theater is in Mile Long Compound, Amorsolo corner Dela Rosa Streets. Admission is free. E-mail [email protected] or visit www.tiu.makati.jp. Like on Facebook: TIU Theater.